By David Hunter
Chochołów > Bielsko-Biała 172km
A familiar looking stage.
The organisers introduced this stage back in 2018, when Michał Kwiatkowski took the win. The following year it was Luca Mezgec who crossed the line first and last year it was Richard Carapaz who surprised the pack with a daring late attack. Each year the organisers have tinkered with the opening half of the stage, last year they added more climbing which killed the hoped of the fast men. This year they’ve gone back to a stage similar to when Kwiatkowski and Mezgec won, but will the fast men be able to hold on? It really is a finish that sits right on the limit of even the best climbing sprinters.
Same as the rest of the week, a lovely sunny day.
This is the cat 1 climb which the bunch tackle before hitting the lap circuit. It’s not that hard, but it puts fatigue into the legs of the sprinters, which hurts them in the final 10km.
This is the climb in the lap circuit, it’s a long drag, but harder than it looks. The final time up the riders only climb 1.6km of it, positioning for the roundabout is very important. Some sprinters will be at the front at this point, but when they go to open up their sprint the legs simply say no!
There will be attacks once we hit the circuit, but it’s very hard to hold off the bunch. The problem is the climb, it favours the riders in the bunch, especially this year with a light headwind. Like in the last three years this stage is destined to end in a reduced sprint, but what will the size of the group be? In 2018 it was around 60 riders, that went up to almost 90 in 2019, but it was only around 50 last year. With the route being a little easier this year I would think we’ll see a group of around 80 this year. This means a late attack is harder to pull off, there should be domestiques left to chase.
Jake Stewart – I think he’s the best option for the fast men, he has the climbing ability required for the finishing circuit. Sorry to sound like a broken record but what he doesn’t have is a team to help position him for the final sprint, this makes life very difficult for him, it’s almost impossible to win as he has to use up energy moving himself up the bunch before the sprint finish. His team need to step up.
Dion Smith – you wouldn’t call him a pure sprinter; this finish is more his style. The Kiwi doesn’t win much, that’s because his speciality is quite niche. He needs a tough day where the sprinters get dropped, but not too tough that the puncheurs go quicker than him. Days like this are rare to find, this stage is pretty close to perfect for him, but I think he’d prefer a flat finish. The uphill finish swings it more to the puncheurs with a fast sprint.
Matej Mohorič – form of his life! The lap circuit contains a lot of fast downhills, he’ll love the sound of that. Patience will be the key, he should save all his energy for the final kilometre, but he simply loves to attack and sometimes can’t help himself.
Diego Ulissi – he was 2nd here last year, winning the bunch sprint behind Carapaz. There are no worries about Ulissi attacking early, he hates putting his nose in the wind until the very last minute. He knows the stage, he knows the finish, this is a great opportunity for him.
Michał Kwiatkowski – won back in 2018, pipping Teuns to the line. Riders love going back to towns where they’ve previously won, and this is a circuit Ineos always seem to do well on. They know the importance of stretching out the bunch on the descent, making it very hard for anyone to move up the bunch once the climb starts. This is what normally kills the legs of the sprinters, especially on the final lap. The problem that the local hero will have this year is the speed of some of his rivals. It will be interesting to see which of the puncheurs is fastest in this type of finish.
Tim Wellens – he’s still searching for that little bit to make him 100%. On paper this is a great stage for the Belgian, he will cope easily with the hills and packs a fine uphill sprint.
Biniam Ghirmay – he’s just moved to Wanty, but already caught the eye in this race. Just 21 years old, the Eritrean has a big future in the sport, he’s far from the finished package just now. When riding for DELKO his positioning was awful, one of the worst I’ve seen, but that was not just his fault. Now riding for a bigger team he’ll have more help in the closing stages, securing a better starting position for the kick. In a stage like this that is the difference between winning and losing, I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do against some of the big names here.
Deceuninck – Quick Step – it’s hard to work out if Honoré or Almeida will be their best option in a sprint, I think I’d favour the Dane, but only just. To win this sprint you must start from the front, which should give the Wolf Pack an advantage as they always seem able to hold a good position in the closing kilometres.
If he starts from a good position, I think we’ll see a win for Jake Stewart, hopefully his team don’t let him down.
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